Web focus helps Sutton book place in limelight

Robert Sutton, Stanford University professor and author, may just be hitting the height of his celebrity.

Robert Sutton, Stanford University professor and author, may just be hitting the height of his celebrity.

The publicity and attention his new book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, is at its peak, with his recent appearances on CNBC and NPR's Talk of the Nation. It seemed like everywhere you looked, there was Sutton, talking about why there should not be jerks at work.

"You've caught me in my 11th minute of fame," he jokes. "It's been a pretty weird experience."

Although the management science and engineering professor has written several books, this one has caught a lot of attention. First, there is the off-color title. Second, Sutton says this is a topic to which so many people can relate.

The title has been an issue with a lot of people, from Christian groups who oppose it as juvenile and unnecessary, to editors at newspapers refusing to print it.

"The reaction to the title varies widely, which is great for PR," Sutton notes. "Some insult me, some love it, but people remember it."

Sutton has a doctorate in organizational psychology from The University of Michigan. Among his other books are The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge Into Action; Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation; and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management.

Sutton's point of view on such workers is easy to summarize: "I hate working with jerks. Managers who belittle and oppress one victim after another shouldn't be hired. And if people turn mean on the job and won't change, they ought to be fired." He goes on to outline a series of behaviors that, when done with regularity, define "assholes" in the workplace.

He says these workplace bullies will use personal insults; invade others' personal territory; bring on uninvited personal contact; threaten and intimidate others; make sarcastic "jokes" that are thinly veiled attacks; flame on e-mail; interrupt others; degrade individuals in front of others; be duplicitous; and treat people as if they are invisible.

Since his latest book's US release in February, Sutton credits his PR team, including publicist Mark Fortier of Fortier PR in New York, with tireless work to get coverage.

The media hits for the book so far include a front-page interview by business writer Jessica Guynn in the San Francisco Chronicle, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, Time, Fortune, NBC's Today, Fox News Channel, American Lawyer, and excerpts on thousands of blogs.

PR efforts were heavily bolstered online. Sutton collaborated with Diego Rodriguez of Ideo, a consultancy which helps organizations innovate through design, who is also an associate consulting professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. The two taught a class together called "Creating Infectious Action," and Rodriguez, a blogger, encouraged Sutton to embrace blogging and the Internet as part of his marketing strategy for the book.

His publisher sent copies to 100 key bloggers, among them Guy Kawasaki, who pens "How To Change The World," a popular blog on marketing. Kawasaki's October 30 entry about the book got 60,000 hits; the usual number is about 5,000, Sutton says.

"You have to like an author who has the [guts] to walk away from Harvard Business School Press because it wouldn't let him use the word 'asshole' in his title," Kawasaki wrote in his review.

Robert Sutton

Author, "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't"

Management science and engineering professor, Stanford University

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